UDF walks out of Kerala Assembly over allegations against Forest Minister

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(Eds: Adds details, recasts intro) Thiruvananthapuram, Jul 22 (PTI) The first day of the second session of the Kerala Assembly on Thursday began on a stormy note with opposition Congress seeking removal of Forest Minister A K Saseendran, who had allegedly attempted to settle a sexual harassment case, even as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan sought to defend his embattled colleague.

As the streets of Thiruvananthapuram and other parts of the state witnessed protest by workers of the Congress and BJP seeking resignation of Saseendran, the victim gave a statement to the police in Kollam district today accusing the minister of trying to settle a case against an NCP leader, who allegedly attempted to sexually assault her.

The woman said she would also petition the Kerala Governor against the minister who 'violated' the oath of office.

Replying to adjournment motion moved by Congress legislator P C Vishnunath in the state Assembly, the Chief Minister said the minister had already made it clear that he had interfered thinking it was some party-related matter.

'The complainant and the accused in the case are party workers of the NCP.

The minister had made it clear, that as a party leader, he just enquired about a dispute between the two party workers,' Vijayan said.

The CM also informed the Assembly that police were probing the complaint of the victim and there was no need to discuss it in the House.

Attacking Vijayan, Leader of Opposition, V D Satheesan said the Chief Minister's reply has revealed that he was with the hunters and not with the victim.

'The Chief Minister's reply will become a licence for those who humiliate, harass and assault women in Kerala,' he said.

The Congress leader said it was clear through the audio clip that was aired in the media that the minister interfered in the probe.

'From the voice clip, it is clear that the Forest Minister interfered in the matter and asked the father of the victim to settle the case,' Satheesan said and later the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) staged a walkout.

Vijayan said the NCP minister made it clear that he never had any intention to weaken the case and did not call any police officer in the matter.

'The Minister, who is the leader of NCP, had called the party worker to resolve a party-related issue.

He had made it clear that when he came to know about the sexual harassment matter, he decided not to interfere,' Vijayan said.

Vishnunath, while presenting the motion, said the minister instead of supporting the victim, tried to influence her father.

'The minister instead of extending support to the victim, called her father to ensure that no legal action will be taken against the culprit.

She filed the complaint on June 28 and the police are yet to record her statement,' the Kundara legislator alleged.

Talking to reporters after giving her statement to the police, the victim said she has informed them of the sequenceof events including the minister's interference and the delay on the part of the authorities to record her statement.

The woman said she told the police about the harassment faced at the hands of NCP leader Padmakaran.

BJP state president K Surendran visited the residence of the woman and offered all support of his party in her fight seeking justice.

The day witnessed protests by activists of Yuvamorcha and Mahilamorcha in front of the State Assembly here seeking resignation of Saseendran.

The police used tear gas shells and water cannons to disperse the saffron party workers.

In Kochi, the Youth Congress workers staged a protest against Saseendran holding a rooster in their hand.

Interestingly, Saseendran had to resign as Transport Minister from the first Vijayan government, in the wake of sleaze talk allegations against him.

The issue came to the fore after Malayalam news channels started airing an alleged telephonic conversation between Saseendran and the woman's father, seeking to settle the issue by mutual agreement.

Subsequently, the minister had told the media that he did call up the girl's father, but to try and settle what he thought was a dispute in the party.

He had claimed that when he found out that it was a case of attempted sexual assault, he did not intervene any further.

The woman, a BJP member, said the NCP member in question had asked her in March whether she had joined BJP to earn money and if so, he would pay her and had then allegedly grabbed her arm.

However, she had not lodged a complaint then.

Thereafter, the NCP member used to mock her at various fora and then on June 28 posted her election campaign poster on WhatsApp with a comment that her father got her to join the BJP for earning money.

Upon seeing this, the woman related the earlier incident to her father following which he preferred to lodge a complaint with the police. PTI RRT TGB ROH ROH